Alaska — fresh off two heartbreaking games (they lost those two games by a combined four points) looks to get back on the good side of .500 with a W against a team similarly struggling to find its footing.
Alaska, in unexpected fashion, is trotting out the league best offense through 5 games. The difference in Coach Alex and Coach Luigi’s strategy is minimal — they still run the same triangle based offense that Coach Luigi installed a couple of conferences ago. The main difference is that Coach Alex seems to have more focus on getting better shots from deep. You watch this new Alaska team and you’ll see a lot more flare screens (to get open 3-point looks from the top of the key) and back screens (to get open 3-point looks from the corners) more than previous iterations of Alaska.
w/ Luigi Trillo
w/ Alex Compton
A league leading offense (108.2 points per 100, close 2nd to TNT). That’s a sizeable improvement from their once middle-of-the-pack offense. What’s different though is Alaska’s inability to defend – they’re now allowing a mark way below average (105.7 points per 100 allowed, 2.9 points below league average). If Alaska can just tweak a few things in their defensive system, they’ll have a better chance at winning this game and maybe contending this conference. Let’s go to the Keys of the Game.
Ball Screen Defense
Currently, ROS is among the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league. Only Tim Cone’s post heavy triangle makes fewer than the Painters. Do not be fooled though — ROS is struggling not because their personnel sucks at it. For the most part it’s because players just aren’t making shots. Belga (who’s made 32.3 percent of his 3-point attempts this season) and Tiu (who’s made 32.5 percent of his 3-point attempts this season) just aren’t making shots they usually make.
Alaska has to be careful with their decisions in defending ball screens. This has been the crux of their defensive problems. Alaska is allowing teams to make 38.6 percent of their 3-point attempts (44 out of 114). It’s no longer just Alaska’s penchant to pack the paint, it’s also about how their rotations are out of whack when they hedge high on screens. Teams know this and what the ball handler usually does is to back up a little bit (to avoid the trap) then shoot a pass to a wide open teammate. That brief 4 vs 3 moment is when Alaska’s horrible rotation happens.
If Alaska wants to attack the ball handler, they absolutely must attack him aggressively and make that first pass as difficult as possible. Trapping would be a good trick. Keeping your hands high and active is another. Hedging high is just not about stopping the motion of the ball handler, it’s also about disrupting the flow of their offense at the start. If they’re not going to hedge aggressively, icing and dropping low should be Alaska’s best option. Rain-or-Shine may finally get their shooting groove back against the Aces. The Aces, for their part, must make sure that it won’t (or at least, it won’t be as bad as a massacre).
STOP FOULING SO MUCH
Another thing that gets me so mad watching the Aces this conference — so many fouls. Opponents register a free throw ratio (FTM/FGA) of 25.6 percent. This means that a team gets two freebies every 8th attempt (or one free throw every 4th attempt). A lot of that is because of their rotations – when they do close out hard on shooters, a simple dribble drive gets the rest of the defense out-of-position and fouling as a final escape out of an easy attempt. Sonny Thoss (4.5 fouls per 36) and Calvin Abueva (5.3 fouls per 36) are chief culprits.
Don’t be the weak link in a very delicate defense, keep those hands and swipes in check. And maybe, just maybe a team that features the 2nd highest free throw ratio (24.6 percent) and employ free throw drawing maestros in Lee (5.3 free throw attempts per 36) and Araña (8.2 free throw attempts per 36) won’t destroy you by fouling out your players and getting to the line for easy baskets.
Take Care of the Ball
Simple really: Rain or Shine feeds off attacking the fastbreak. They’ve gotten almost 20 easy points via fastbreaks. A lot of that is because of their ability to generate steals (7.8 steals per game, 2nd best) and turnovers (16.8 percent TOV%, best).
Alaska’s offensive system is meant to have a lot of tricky passes. Those passes to the middle are tricky, so are those cross court passes to a flaring shooter in the opposite corner. It’s this high risk that breeds those huge rewards. No surprise that Alaska has a lot of turnovers (15.5 percent, 2nd worst). I’ve been clamoring for better execution on their pet plays. Overloading is not an option against the quick hands of these Painters. Thoss, Abueva and Espinas, in particular, should hold that ball high when they’re the designated pinch post/mid-court cutter.
I’m confident Alaska’s last two losses were just fluke (breaks of the game). However, Rain-or-Shine looks like the worst matchup for Alaska to bounce back from. Predicting a loss right here.